My childhood memories are scattered in pieces across my mind. While I have some of my own memories, others come from the stories told by family members or friends. For a long time, many of the pieces didn’t make sense, but letters, pictures, and stories helped put the snippets into a more complete picture
From what I learned, my first Christmas was spent with my parents at my father’s parents farm in West Va. We lived with them for the first few months. My mother had just turned 17 and my father was barely 20. After the holidays, they moved back home to Charleston to live in the projects in downtown Charleston. My father was in the Navy and gone for weeks at a time. When he came home, he would drink and there would be fights…verbal and physical. As I got older, I would be in the mix. My mother taught me to hide under a table. The next few Christmases included bringing two more abusive alcoholics (Mother’s parents) into the mix. The Christmas before my 4th birthday, my mother played out a plan that included leaving and separating my brother and me between grandparents.
My parents were in and out of my life. Holidays, particularly Christmas brought dreams and wishes that my mother or my father would somehow miss me enough to come and see me. I do remember many times looking out the window and hoping. Any time I heard a car, I would look to see if it might be one of them; it never was.
My grandmother found “religion” when I was about 7. Christmas meant going to church service at midnight Christmas Eve and coming home to my drunken grandfather. When we got home, I could open one gift under the ugly silver tree with revolving color wheel with a manager scene carefully placed underneath. Gifts were practical for the most part, with one “frivolous” gift like a doll or bike. The only present I cared about was the one my mother would send me. Later, I discovered many phone calls and gifts were never received because of my Grandmother’s intervention.
Christmas finally took on new meaning when I had children of my own. The greatest joy I had was finding gifts for them, yet because of our own financial problems, I often wasn’t able to give them all they wanted. They didn’t seem to care. They loved the tree and decorations. They always took part in the Christmas music and scenes at church. My husband’s parents were so very generous with gifts for the kids and they always had what they wanted, even if I couldn’t give it.
All of that changed, when I started drinking and in time, became a full-blown alcoholic. In the fall of 1986, my husband took custody of my kids, and I was left with visitation only. The pain and heartbreak was overwhelming. December of 1986, I made the decision to move to Baltimore to try to find a better job and get my life together in order to provide a home for children and get them back. But alcoholics can’t move away from themselves. That Christmas, I was able to get gifts and send them back home to the kids, but I drank everyday to numb the pain of their loss. During the next 3 and 1/2 months, I drank and drugged daily, put myself in dangerous places with dangerous people, and lost all hope. I wondered if my children watched out the window to see if I was coming that Christmas, even though they knew, just as I did, that it wasn’t going to happen.
I got sober in April of 1987. My husband told the kids they could come and stay with me for Christmas if I could get them to Baltimore. I didn’t have a car and he knew I didn’t have the money to fly them there. Jan F. told me to pray and talk to my support group and just “let go and let God.” I hated her telling me those thing, but I learned to trust her. I did what she said.
Two weeks before Christmas, a friend invited me to lunch. She pulled out two round trip airline tickets for my kids. She told me that she drank away her chance to ever have children and wanted to help me get mine back. That weekend, we had our Christmas party at work. My coworkers, who had watched me drink myself almost to death and now watched me in recovery, gave me an envelope with $100.00 cash and a $100 gift card to a grocery store and another to Penny’s. That Christmas gave me hope and helped me believe that perhaps God hadn’t given up on me.
It took over 20 years before I would be in a church at Christmas. I wonder if God watched out of the window sometimes to see I was going to come back . Even though I found a new relationship with God and Jesus, I struggled with the idea of church. I started visiting a few churches and a couple of years ago found a church home. Last Christmas, I attended all of the Christmas services and found a new appreciation for Christmas. There was one service that touched my heart. It was the Blue Christmas service. You can read about it here in an article that my friend Jan wrote about that night. It has been a long journey.
In a day or so, I will share more about my Christmas “Present” and then shortly after that Christmas “Future.”